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"Slap" bass (DB Jazz Technique Thread)

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by HateyMcAmp, Jan 5, 2012.

  1. HateyMcAmp

    HateyMcAmp Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2006
    Just to be clear, this isn't about Larry Graham or Flea's electric style, or even what Lee Rocker does on his DB for rockabilly. If you want to talk about any of those monster players, you wouldn't have to look very far. While there is a bunch of info out there on slap bass for rock'n'roll players (with a couple dedicated forums including a subsection on this site) there is very little on slap in the context of jazz despite its long history. I hope this thread can narrow the gap!

    I'm an emerging pro bassist here in NYC who plays in a popular Americana string band along with several working bands that do "traditional" sounding stuff. I started studying DB in college and was a "pizz only" guy for a couple of years in my early 20s. I would sometimes palm-slap between pizz notes in situations in which drummers were not present.

    When I got to NYC, I started studying with a guy who got me bowing, and despite my early apprehension, slapping the bass in a more complete way. Initially, I got what I considered to be a really clanky metallic sound and didn't really bother with it for a while. I continued playing pizz and arco, but became more interested in slapping after I switched to guts. Occasionally in the bluegrass context I would try and take a rhythmic slap solo or slap a I-V progression under a loud soloist.

    There are some immediate advantages of slapping along with drawbacks. Slap makes the bass very loud and opens up option to play unplugged more often, can open up very fast tempos, can be performed on almost any bass and setup (although some are subjectively "better" and "easier") and gets a great audience response. Disadvantages include it not being appropriate on some gigs (and I still have gigs every week I don't slap AT ALL) and that it takes a good amount of time/work to get it sounding nice, just like arco and pizz! You ever hear a youtube bassist just sounding LOUD and out of tune while slapping? They need some dynamics and intonation practice, but its not really slap bass's fault. Slap, like pizz and arco, has a wide, expressive range.

    The real revelation for me as a slap bassist was when I began getting more serious about playing jazz, particularly the old-school styles. What I've found is that slap IS a part of New Orleans jazz, Gypsy jazz, and various swing varieties. I did a really driving two-feel recording of "After You've Gone" a few weeks ago, and I found slapping the solo I had planned to just play pizz really added to the drive and gave a great tone.

    Jazz slap bass is immediately a little more intimidating than bluegrass or rockabilly as it is often more chord-y and are often in horn keys. Slapping quick tunes in Ab (in tune ;)) is a real test of your chops! That said, if your pizz (and arco) are in shape on jazz stuff, you already have the left-hand fundamentals!

    Can you be a great jazz bassist without slapping? I think that is pretty obviously true and I see bassists in NYC who can hold it down in these "rootsy" contexts without using the techniques. I also don't think that slap should come at the expense of "proper" pedagogy; I could bow and pizz in tune well up into thumb position before I really started worrying about my slapping. That said, I get a great response when I do deploy the technique and it gets me (jazz!) gigs I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Again, and this is for me, I've come to think of my slap skills as part of me being a "complete" pizz player.

    Here's some cool slap stuff that a jazzer could dig:

    Milt Hinton on the roots (take a look at his technique, as well) - Milt Hinton Slap Bass Demo - YouTube

    My "slap" teacher - St. Thomas for Solo Doublebass by Jason Sypher - YouTube

    Cab Calloway singing about his favorite consumable - Smoke a reefer - YouTube

    Pops Foster - Pops Foster Slap Bass Solo - Beale Street Blues - YouTube

    Beau Sample slappin' a standard - The Art of Slap Bass Presents BEAU SAMPLE - YouTube

    Chicago legend Willie Dixon - Willie Dixon - Bassology - YouTube

    A really great recording you can check out to find more slap bass in a "modern" context is Branford Marsalis's "Trio Jeepy", on which he and Milt Hinton play "Three Little Words" as a sax/slap bass duo.....

    So, what do you guys think? Do you ever slap in jazz? Do you have a reason not to? Any more modern cats slappin' some bop?
    cdavisshannon likes this.
  2. untitledtopher


    Jun 17, 2010
    Employee, Gollihur Music
    Jay, I 100% agree with this. I'm a jazz guy that got roped into some Rockabilly gigs (hey, whatever pays the bills) and have to say i dug that slapping. started getting into milt's stuff, some new orleans ragtime, and gypsy jazz. hey this stuff is challenging! yet a blast, i think it truly is a great technique for all jazz players to have in their back pocket, I even slapped through a few tunes at my new years eve gig this year with a drumerless trio.
  3. moles


    Jan 24, 2007
    Winnipeg, MB
    Great post.
    I've really only been playing DB for maybe 4 years or so. My opinion of slap hasn't really changed - broadened slightly maybe - but I'm encountering more and more players that see it can have it's place as a genuine technique in more than rockabilly, roots, or retro "hot" styles.
    A vocals/keys/bass trio I played with at one point started demanding the slap thing after I pulled it out one New Orleans/Dixieland style gig. I found I could do some slapping in two in a big band setting, and it was well received. I know that's not groundbreaking - now - but back then I had no idea how it would be received.
    Then there is the flip side of the coin. I recall trying to join a blues outfit as a double bassists, and after about three email exchanges desparately trying to make the leader understand I wasn't trying to change their band into a Rockabilly outfit. It was going in one ear and out the other though, so I just bailed on the whole thing.
    I just did my first Square Dance - the fiddler in the band was firmly rooted in the Appalachian style. Not Jazz, to be sure, but I also wasn't really certain how slapping would be received until I did a little at the end of the one rehearsal we had. Wound up playing single quarter note slaps all night on the gig. :D
    I agree that it can be as important as any other technique, and the same rules apply. You need to work on the technique. The proper strings can be important, then again learning to pull the sound you want out of the strings you got can be equally as beneficial. I get the sound out of the Spiro Weichs I have on the bottom of my big slap Strunal now, because I put the time in on guts.
    I guess my opinion at this point is that if it sounds good, do it. I'm commited to finding open, creative individuals to work with across the board at this point - and blanket negativity about anything just doesn't turn my crank anymore.
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I haven't watched these videos yet, but I will. Charnett Moffit immediately came to mind, though. I Don't do that sort of thing, but I caught him when he came through town and it really got my attention. Is that the sort of thing that you mean?

    The other thing that came to mind is old, old, Slam Stewart or pre- type playing.

    I'll check out the videos when I get some down time.
  5. HateyMcAmp

    HateyMcAmp Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2006
    I had a really interesting experience yesterday. The guitarist in one of my working bands has a bunch of rockabilly/loud stuff, so we had a practice yesterday that was really loud with a full drumset. While he wanted me to slap every note, I found that amp'ed up my regular ol' pizz worked better for my style and I was way more in tune / in time. Also, I left with some new respect for those guys who slap all night as opposed to the "breaks" I take! Even with my low tension gut/anima combo, my hands were dying. I've always been a lousy rock player though, so why would I expect that to change on DB :cool: Maybe I just need to practice slapping in this context? I think what I'm getting at is is slap jazz bass is a completely different beast! I also am finding that I GREATLY prefer the slap sound/balance with pizz unamplified....
  6. EPs slap pretty well, as do Flexocor 92s. It seems to be about the combined timbre of the bass and whatever you have it strung with. Lively carved bass plus Spirocore buzz = GANK GANK GANK. I have hands like a mechanic, so my arm muscles tend to wear out before my hands start to hurt or blister.

    I slap dead Spiro Starks on my heavy German ply, no problems. Sounds like a hollow log, even amplified.

    As far as jazz slap is concerned, check out Nicolas Dubouchet. He's on youtube and has been discussed here now and again.

    He's a young guy, 40ish, and French. Started playing slap when the Stray Cats hit in Europe and later moved into hot jazz.

    One of his techniques is to tame the boom and eke more definition out of gut or gut-like strings by gently pulling the string and snapping it against the fingerboard, then quickly muting. It really cuts in a small ensemble and sounds very musical.
  7. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've been messing with slapping for a couple months now - I do really enjoy it and helps my time in general. I guess it goes with the idea that everybody's gotta be a drummer.

    One of the best things I ever did for myself is to learn one of Milts slap solos. They're pretty brilliant with all the stuff he throws in. Brilliant with some of the simple melodic lines he puts in, even two a slapped 2 feel. I just can't pull off some of his triplet slaps tho. IMO, this Milt Hinton vid says it all (including some cool hemiola type phrases that I really love doing).
    Milt Hinton - Tonight Show - YouTube

    From studying a little bit of Milts playing, I've gotten into the habit of slapping out heads for tunes as part of my regular practice when learning new material. Not sure what it is, but I'm guessing that I'm getting a drummers feel for where the notes land in the measure. It's pretty fun once you get the hang of it.

    My two fav recordings:
    Exactly Like You - Hayward & Hinton
    Fascinating Rhythm - The Trio (1994). His slap solo just knocks me out. It's got everything. Also a fantastic album altogether. One of my all-time favorites.

    It's weird, rockabilly slap seems alot more about endurance and less about note choice and rhythmic figures. Those guys can really bang it out, I have a hard time doing it at bright tempos for even just 2 minutes. A regular jazz/classical setup with steel strings doesn't seem so conducive towards endurance slapping. I prolly simply don't have the chops for it. Personally, I don't like to snap the string against the fingerboard. I feel like it takes away from the note and you lose a little more sense of melody. You def lose the attack from the note itself.

    IMO, Charnett Moffett is more of slapping ala EB. He really nails that side of things. His right hand technique is really unorthodox.
  8. ZuluFunk

    ZuluFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    What stings does your teacher use?
  9. ZuluFunk

    ZuluFunk Supporting Member

    Apr 14, 2001
    I used to play lots of Rockabilly, but not so much any more. My bass was a lammy strung up with naked guts. Totally set up for slapping, at the expense of arco and even a decent pizz tone.

    It may be flashy/trashy but, I find in some settings where I'm really moving along, I will throw in a triplet here and there. Especially on some of the gypsy swing stuff I do.

    You could definitely over-do it. And if you don't know what you're doing you can look pretty dumb. But, I think we've established that it's a technique that has it's place.
  10. fivaras


    Sep 13, 2009
    Athens, Greece
    Hey guys. Lately I am trying to get into the jazz slapping technique. I am mostly interested in the sound of Hinton and Foster. But I just can't understand how they do it! It's not rockabilly slap (I am trying to avoid it, since it's too exhausting!) I am pretty sure of it. Is it a kind of pizzicato with slapping the strings after each quarter note? And about Foster's technique: In the popular Beale Street Blues video, it seems like he is "pinching" the strings, also using his thumb when he is playing his solo. I would definitely want to know more about this early jazz slap technique.
  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'm getting back into this more myself. I'm two steps from sending Pete Coco questions about his take on Milts technique.

    I'm finding that it's pretty simple but you have to find a way to relax as much as possible.

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